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Jogging on. An Interlude in The Lake District.

Jogging on. An Interlude in The Lake District.
Great shot of me climbing on Helvellyn courtesy of Graham Kelly.
Not so long ago I was browsing Facebook, as you do, and I came across an interesting link to a page calling itself The Trail Running Team. They were recruiting for applicants to attend a weekend for their 2014 team selection. A weekend running in The Lake District with like minded folks and the potential, if successful, to win a three day training camp in The Alps and a bunch of kit from the team sponsors, Berghaus, LED Lenser, and Torq Performance, was an opportunity not to be sniffed at! So I sent in an application.
And guess what? I got in! My confirmation email arrived on April 4th and the realisation set in that I was actually going and would be found out as an impostor forthwith!

And so it was. on Saturday 26th April, I found myself winging it northwards towards the stunningly beautiful Ullswater Valley, in the North-East Lakes, and the perfectly located Helvellyn Youth Hostel at Glenridding.
En route I called in at motorway services at Scotch Corner on the A1 and ordered myself a Cafe Latte at the Costa Coffee outlet. Now that I’ve reached the ripe old age of forty-four my eyes are starting to go a bit, and I couldn’t make out the prices on the board at the back of the counter (or perhaps they have craftily blurred the numbers just to trick me in to thinking I’m getting older!). So when the young Barista handed me my coffee and asked for £3.65 I nearly passed out!
After a sharp, and surreptitious, intake of breath, and possibly a tiny squeal, I payed up. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the young woman was extremely attractive, and I needed a caffeine fix, I might have declined. It’s a shame that she looked at me with complete disdain, like I was one of her Dad’s lecherous old buddies! Hey-ho.

I had intended to travel up on the Thursday afternoon or Friday morning with the intention of going for a run around the Fairfield Horseshoe. A small cairn has been built where my cousin Darren collapsed and died in October 2012 and I wanted to visit it; but my Mum was scheduled to have an operation and I wasn’t about to go off for the weekend without making sure that she that she was fine before I left. Another time.

And so I pulled in to the car park at the end of a long single-track road at about 09.30am.
I was surprised by a familiar face; Ben, from Torq Performance, spotted me and gave me a shout.
The Youth Hostel at Helvellyn is in a great spot, nestled right in the cleft of a deep valley, it was going to be a lovely weekend. The incessant rain on my journey up had abated and the sun was poking it’s welcome head through the clouds; perfect.

Helvellyn Youth Hostel.

The organisers, Freestak, had in itinerary set out for the day which included sponsor presentations and two speakers. As it happens I was well aware of the credentials of the speakers, Fell Running legends Steve Birkinshaw and Helene Whitaker (nee Diamantides), and I was really looking forward to them.
It wasn’t disappointing. The entire room, of around fifty runners, sat spellbound as they chatted away. Helene was the outright winner of the first Dragons Back Ultra Marathon in Wales in 1992, and Steve Birkinshaw had recently won the second running of this event in 2012, amongst many other fantastic races. Genuinely nice, and truly inspiring athletes. 
Steve’s next project is an attempt on Joss Naylor’s record of the running of all the “Wainwright’s” in The Lake District. Take a look at the link here to get an idea of what he is about to do.

In the afternoon we all went out for a run! 🙂

Gathering for our group run.

A steady pace all the way up the bridleway to Red Tarn, in the shadow of Striding Edge. It starts as a steady climb, steepens in the middle, and then eases again towards the top, with plenty of rocks and obstacles in the trail to keep in interesting. I really enjoyed the climb up and spent the time chatting with other participants along the way. What a bunch! Some where relative newcomers, others recreational, and a few Ultra-marathoner’s thrown in for good measure! Some of the CV’s on show were pretty impressive! The Marathon des Sables was mentioned a couple of times. 
Later in the day I discovered that one of our group, Graham Kelly, had even run the famous Copper Canyons Ultra (aka The Caballo Blanco) alongside the famous Barefoot Ted and The Tarahumara Indians! (The worlds greatest ultra-runners).

On arrival at the tarn Steve Birkinshaw promptly lead a charge in to the water!
A few brave souls joined him, I wasn’t one of them! 
I really didn’t want to get my trail shoes soaking wet with another long run planned for Sunday, and the snow clinging to the north faces of Helvellyn suggested to me that it might be quite cold. Bugger that, I wimped out and enjoyed watching the few that did.

Group photo at The Red Tarn, in the shadow of Helvellyn.

In the evening the one’s that were staying overnight were treated to a viewing of the Berghaus “Dragons Back 2012” movie featuring Steve and Helene. That’s pretty inspiring too.
I was almost tempted to sign up for the next one in 2015; almost.

On Sunday morning, after a hearty breakfast, we gathered together for the bonus run. Steve was going to lead a faster group for a three hour route, and Helene was to lead a slower run/fast-hike with the ones who preferred to take it a bit easier. I was undecided and thought I would see how it panned out. I didn’t want to choose the fast option if I was going to be hanging on at the back for dear life! We all climbed together back towards Red Tarn before we were to split off in different directions. As it happened I found the pace at the front pretty comfortable and so I took the long option with Steve Birkinshaw and his friend Andy Thompson (In strange twist of fate I have just seen Andy being interviewed about Fell Running on the BBC’s Countryfile program, whilst writing this!). We climbed up on to Swirral Edge and then traversed the ridge across towards the summit of Helvellyn, with a final steep scramble through rock onto the summit plateau.
From here we undulated across the summits of the Nethermost & Dollywagon Pikes before taking on a steep, exhilarating descent towards Grisedale Tarn in a valley dominated by St Sunday Crag; a stunning natural wonder. Darren had fallen, high up, somewhere between the summits of St Sunday Crag and Hart Crag, and I reflected on this; a family tragedy played out in a place of such wondrous beauty; Darren may have fallen from our lives but he did so in a place that he loved beyond mere words.

Ascending the scramble on the way to the summit. Helvellyn.

At the bottom of the descent we were traversing a relatively easy path down the valley when I turned awkwardly on my right foot, grazed my knee, and sprained my ankle! We were just about to split up, with Andy Thompson and Graham Kelly about to head off back towards the hostel, and everyone else taking on another challenging climb with Steve. I realised that my sprain was quite a bad one and so, reluctantly, I decided to head back with Andy & Graham. Normally If you keep moving you can continue on, carefully, even with a bad sprain. We followed a lovely bridleway all the way down The Grisedale Valley towards Patterdale before circling around the end of a spur and back up to Glenridding. A stream rushes through adjacent to the hostel and we spent a few minutes soaking our tired feet in the ice cold water.

Runners pride. It looks a lot worse than it actually was.

All the runners re-grouped at the hostel and we enjoyed a delicious bowl of stew, before saying our goodbyes and wishing each other luck with the selection process.
The weather had held fair for us all weekend, the trails had been dry, and we had had the chance to run with two of Britain’s finest athletes; you couldn’t really hope for more.

Best of all I enjoyed meeting a lovely group of people with a shared passion for trail running and getting out there with them in the hills.

“Like The Wind” is a new magazine being produced by Freestak. It is a lovely read in the same vain as the cycling magazines Rouleur and Privateer; very high quality, minimal advertising, and full of the stories and meanderings of real runners. You won’t find any “How to…” articles or other stuff that you might find in the regular magazines, it is a breath of fresh air. A lovely read for anyone bored with the mainstream press. Seek it out and have a look, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Finally THANK YOU to Simon and the all team at Freestak for giving me such a wonderful opportunity.

I’ll see all you on the trod sometime 🙂

Looking over Red Tarn towards Striding Edge and Helvellyn.
The traverse along Swirral Edge.
My ankle, two days after.

About The Author

Neil Cottam

Neil is the founder of Chase The Rainbow. He has spent a lifetime exploring the outdoors, from a childhood climbing trees and scrambling his bike around old pit heads to hiking in the Himalaya and backpacking around Europe and Asia.

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